Saturday, January 31, 2009

KQED Music: New Year, Old Records

January is rarely an exciting musical month new-release-wise, which is a shame; the New Year should be all about fresh, new things, after all. But this year I've found musical refreshment from a less obvious source: the latest edition of Tom Moon's 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. The title is fairly self-explanatory, and there are plenty other best-ever-record-list books out there, but this really is a superior example of the genre.

First of all, it is impressively eclectic, taking in genres such as classical, folk, and blues next to the standard rock/pop mix. And it's organized alphabetically by artist, which means lots of fun collisions such as Public Enemy being held back by millions from Puccini's La Bohème, and the Sex Pistols neglecting to mind their bollocks next to Shakira ...

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chow: When Probiotics Kill

Relax: Your yogurt drinks are safe.

Manufacturers of "healthy yogurts" have long been telling us about the benefits of probiotics and "friendly" bacteria. But new research reveals you can have too much of a good thing ... particularly if you happen to be suffering from a severe inflammation of the pancreas.

NutraIngredients reports on a medical trial in the Netherlands that was designed to find out if probiotics could be used to reduce infection rates in intensive care patients with acute pancreatitis, a rare but serious condition. Unfortunately, the results demonstrated that patients who were given the treatment were more than twice as likely to die compared with those who weren't.

Dr. Marc Besselink told BBC Radio that "nothing went wrong" in the study, it just revealed that probiotics seem to kill patients with certain serious medical conditions. We shudder to think what might happen when a study does go wrong.

The good news is that probiotics are still perfectly safe for the rest of us.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.

Chow: Saved by Whiskey

Man survives terrifying sofa-related ordeal thanks to "water of life."

The BBC brings us this unusual tale of a man trapped by his own sofa, which had flipped over and pinned him for more than two days. The shaken senior citizen says he managed to stay alive by sipping from a bottle of whiskey, which had handily rolled within reach of his soft-furnished prison.

Disregarding small details like the fact that most people can survive that long without liquids, or that drinking alcohol will only hasten dehydration, this inspiring story is the ultimate proof of whiskey’s life-giving powers. No wonder sofa survivor Joe Galliott’s making sure to keep a bottle handy in case of similar emergencies in the future.

Unfortunately the article doesn’t make clear exactly how much whiskey a man needs to consume before he’s able to crash into a three-seater couch with enough force to tip it upside down in the first place.

Check out the BBC’s video coverage here.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.

Chow: Burn Dinner, Destroy the Earth

Cooking places parts of Asia under a cloud

The delightfully named Atmospheric Brown Cloud (or ABC for short) is a dirty, soupy fug of pollution that hangs over South Asia. So it’s cars and power plants that are to blame, right? Not so, according to new research reported in the New York Times. Apparently the main culprits are ... cooking and agriculture.

So are charred Pop Tarts and AstroTurf lawns causing LA’s smog too?

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chow: Chinese Melamine Milk Kills Two More

This pair will be executed by the state.

The Los Angeles Times reports that a Chinese court has sentenced two men to death for their parts in the tainted milk scandal which killed six babies and poisoned almost 300,000 more.

Despite the severity of the sentences, which also included a life sentence for the boss of the dairy that manufactured the contaminated baby formula, the LA Times says many victims are still angry about those who had escaped punishment:

“Teng Biao, a lawyer for some of the parents, said that the men given the death sentence were scapegoats in a failed product-safety system. ‘This involved the whole political and social system. There were politicians and bureaucrats who should have taken more responsibility as well,’ Teng said today.”

The BBC’s report on the trial describes the widespread conspiracy which led to the introduction of the protein-boosting melamine to watered-down milk in the first place, as well as a systematic failure to subsequently test milk products for safety.

The scandal led to global product recalls, and seriously harmed the reputation of Chinese-made goods around the world. It happened just four years after another fake baby milk incident killed 13 babies in China.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Chow: Some People Can't Help Being Thin

We all know someone who can eat and drink whatever fatty, sugary, carb-loaded food is put in front of him, doesn’t seem to do much exercise, and yet never seems to put on an ounce of weight. “I just can’t help it,” he’ll say with wide-eyed innocence, while others quietly seethe.

It turns out that he may be right. A new BBC documentary explores the idea that some people seem to have a genetic predisposition to skinniness. On the show, 10 thin people were asked to gorge on junk food for four weeks while also cutting back on any aerobic activity, even walking. Copying an experiment carried out in a Vermont state prison in 1967, the program produced much the same results: It seems that some people just can’t put on weight, no matter how much they eat or how idle they are.

The next question: How long until we can all get our hands on these genes? Burger King and La-Z-Boy are probably working on it as we speak.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chow: BBC Butchers Reality TV

Is that the sound of knives being sharpened, or the bottom of a barrel being scraped?

Picture the scene: BBC television executives are busy scratching their heads trying to come up with the Next Big Hit Show. They know what works: Reality programs like American Idol and Top Chef are just as popular in the UK as they are here. But singing has been done. Cooking has been done. Dancing has been done. Bachelors, desert islands, models—done, done, done. So what's next?

"OK guys, we want something the public can really get involved in, but is also young. We need to target the teenage demographic."

"Everyone likes food, even teenagers."

Pause while the assembled minds work their magical alchemy.

"How about butchering?"

Thus, the BBC's new Britain's Young Butcher of the Year is launched, and the assembled creatives slap one another on the back for a job well done.

And according to the BBC Press Office’s website, "The search for Britain's Young Butcher Of The Year will be followed by contests for other professions including hairdressers." Expect to see America’s Next Top Cheesemonger and Dishwashing with the Stars arriving in the near future.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Palm Reading: I see an iPhone in your future

The news that Palm is about to re-enter the smartphone market with the Pré is unlikely to tempt many users away from buying a BlackBerry or iPhone. That includes me, a long-term Palm PDA user.

The one thing that has given me cause to reconsider is the realisation that my Palm Zire 71 has worked without hassle or serious complaint for six years now. That's six whole years. Translated into human terms, it's the gadget equivalent of living to the age of 200. But, while senility hasn't set in yet (it still remembers my dates and addresses without error), it doesn't have the energy it used to and now requires far more frequent trips to the charger. The end, I fear, is nigh.

Of course, there's no place for silly feelings like nostalgia or pity when it comes to technology (unlike, say, blind adherence to trends and the whims of fashion) so I will soon be replacing it with something shiny, new, and - more likely than not - made by Apple. Proof, if any were needed, that even making really good, reliable products is no guarantee of success these days.

Originally published at

Monday, January 12, 2009

Chow: Hard to Swallow

You may have heard about Natural Harvest, a cookbook centered around an ingredient perhaps best described as "man milk" on a family website like ours. We've certainly been sent quite a few emails about it (normally marked things like "ew," "gross," and "NSFW"). While you'd have to be nuts to take it seriously, it has made us see quite a few other cookbooks in a whole new light.

Here's a list of popular food titles that may never seem the same again:

Cooking for One (Quick and Easy)
Going Solo in the Kitchen
Two Dudes, One Pan
The Omnivore's Dilemma
The Sneaky Chef
Joy of Cooking
Jamie at Home
The Billionaire's Vinegar
Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin

Have any suggestions of your own?

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.

Stationery Porn: Leitz Folders

I recently took delivery of these Leitz hanging files. I won't bore you with the reasons I need larger European A4 folders rather than standard US letter ones, but it took a surprisingly long time to find an American supplier that stocked such subversively sized pieces of stationery. I guess there isn't much call for metric filing round these parts; indeed, the mere act of ordering them probably means my name will shortly appear on some Homeland Security watch list or other.

And little wonder: these functional, utilitarian beauties certainly look as if they might have Communist sympathies. They are German-made, and look bleakly efficient in a Lives of Others sort of way. The simple act of filing may never be quite the same for me.

By Keith Laidlaw. Originally published on

Chow: Squirrel-Flavored Snacks

What is it with the squirrel-munching? First the New York Times tells us that adorable, fluffy-tailed rodents are ending up in cooking pots and on dinner plates across the UK. And now Gawker reports that a leading potato chip manufacturer there has come up with new squirrel flavor for its so-called “crisps.”

Cajun Squirrel “flavour” is part of Walkers’s Do Us a Flavour campaign, in which crisp-eaters can vote for their favorite new flavor through May to see which one of six finalists stays on the shelf. The other five flavors in the running are fish and chips, onion bhaji, crispy duck and hoisin, chili and chocolate, and builder’s breakfast (beans, eggs, sausage, bacon).

But this last piece of news won’t come as so much of a surprise to anyone familiar with eccentric tastes in salted snacks on the far side of the pond. We’re talking about a nation where the most popular potato chip flavors include cheese’n’onion, lamb and mint, tomato ketchup, and even prawn cocktail (no, really). And other woodland creatures aren’t safe either, as this picture of Hedgehog crisps proves.

What’s next? Bambi tortillas? Toad pretzels? Roasted badger nuts? This sickness has to stop!

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

KQED Music: Special Delivery from Glasvegas

There's no mistaking that Glasvegas hail from Glasgow, Scotland, and not the gambling oasis that gave them the other half of their name. Their music is much more northern gloom than Nevadan glam; this is the sound of rainy tenements, not neon-drenched desert. And then there's the simple fact that vocalist James Allan sings with a strong Scottish accent, which is always a dead giveaway.

Or is it?

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